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Youth-led effort donates new bicycles to orphans in Zimbabwe

On Friday, youth at the Rose of Sharon Orphanage in Harare, Zimbabwe, whose young lives are not often punctuated by moments of joy, were surprised by a very special delivery.

Forty-five new bicycles arrived on the campus, donated to help provide a reliable means of transportation and, in the process, help improve the quality of their lives.

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More than 10,200 miles away, members of the nonprofit Bikes 4 Orphans anxiously awaited confirmation of receipt, imagining the children's reactions when they learned the bikes would be theirs.

"Like if you come home one day and see a new car — that's what I like to think it is to them," said Shawnt Bazikian, a senior at La Cañada's St. Francis High School and Glendale resident who helped start the group in 2012 with older brother and founder Sebouh. "It's something so different in their lives that is going to affect them so much."

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The group, comprising mainly students at St. Francis, La Crescenta's Clark Magnet High School and UCLA, where Sebouh is a sophomore, has delivered some 200 bikes to orphans living in five different nations.

The shipment to Rose of Sharon was made possible by a Feb. 28 fundraiser, an annual Bike-A-Thon held at the Glendale Sports Complex, which raised $9,500. All of the proceeds went toward the purchase and shipment of bicycles, Bazikian said.

To make this delivery easier, Bikes 4 Orphans partnered with Serving Orphans Worldwide, a Tennessee-based nonprofit ministry that aids 5,000 orphans worldwide. That organization helped identify legitimate orphanages, sparing the student group the long process of working with national embassies to weed out sham groups preying on foreign aid.

Mia Baker, a media coordinator for Serving Orphans Worldwide, praised the efforts of Bikes 4 Orphans for recognizing a very real need among underserved children.

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"Some of our children have to walk several miles to school to receive their education," Baker wrote in an email interview. "The donation of bikes alleviates the children of this obstacle and provides them with a time-efficient solution to this problem … [allowing] the children to focus more on their education by helping them to arrive at school sooner, stay longer and save their energy for their schoolwork."

Sebouh Bazikian said he was grateful for all the people who've made Bikes 4 Orphans' efforts possible, adding that members are hoping to find new ways to raise funds for future deliveries.

"I am very thankful we have come this far," he said. "The children can use the bikes to go anywhere to change their lives. We are not changing their lives directly, but instead giving them a crucial tool to accomplish it."

Expressing her thanks in an email, Rose of Sharon Director Fatima Maruta shared with Shawnt Bazikian the reaction of the children to Friday's delivery.

"I wish you were here so that you could see the expression on our faces. We are more than the word happy, and surprised too," Maruta wrote. "I didn't know that the bicycles were coming from Zimbabwe and that it was going to be very fast. The other children had gone home and the few who were still around were so overjoyed and in disbelief. I thank you most heartily. May God Almighty bless you in abundance."

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